The importance of compassion – but don’t forget to be wise
Lately I’ve kind of been into Buddhist mode again. During college I first got introduced to the teachings of the Buddha, but apart from a feeling of recognition I never really got into Buddhism. The last year has brought significant changes in my life. Old pain came creeping up to the surface and I had to deal with it. Coincidental or not, but when I experienced the most difficult phase, I found out about an English Buddhist monk called Ajahn Brahm.
Hearing this monk speak, with passion, compassion and a good dose of English humor, I heard a lot of the answers I was searching for, for quite sometime. And it made me realize that it’s perfectly fine to find my own way (be it in Buddhism or any other wisdom tradition.) I don’t have to become a monk to study the teachings. I don’t have to be perfect to become wiser and more compassionate. All these things which are so obvious, were somehow kept away from me for all these years. And that’s one of the great ‘powers’ of Ajahn Brahm. He knows his human psychology. We need to give people back their feeling of worthiness and self empowerment otherwise they will never be able to take full responsibility for their lives.
When I was struggling with life, a deep trauma came to the surface. I realized it was time to ask for help. I couldn’t do it all by myself. There is interdependence in the world, nothing exists by itself. I depend on others just as much as they depend on me. When I reached out, I was overwhelmed by all the help I received from others. I have never dared to expect so much compassion, love and help, but I got it anyway. It helped me to get up again, to crawl out of the pit of self-pity and lack of self-love and rebuild my confidence and self-esteem. In my case, Ajahn Brahm helped me find the inner source of strength and wisdom again. He wants us to become more and more human, by helping us being humane. To feed our hearts which have had to suffer for so long now. As Lao Tzu said: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
The interesting thing is that I didn’t just learn from Ajahn Brahm. In the course of many years there have been countless teachers and teachings. I always regarded everything as my teacher. So I feel gratitude for all who have helped me along the path either by blocking my way or helping me get over or around the blockade. We tend to forget those who have obstructed us, even though they often teach us the most valuable lessons. It can often just take years before the lessons reveal themselves. When I got confronted by old pain, a reminiscence of something which happened in my past, at first I was overwhelmed and shocked. Do I really need to deal with this? Do I really need to look at this again? I thought I had somehow overcome it all, but in the end it turned out I only put it away deep inside in the dark.
Now, a couple of months later, I’m starting to cope with the pain better each day. It taught me that it’s important to have some discipline; I need to take care of myself (body and mind). I am responsible for my thoughts, so why not be compassionate with them? And I can pretend that I am not the body, but then I’ll be neglecting the truth of the matter. It’s better to take care of your body, by nurturing it with healthy food, exercise and perhaps a bit of meditation – which calms the mind too. Then I can look into the interconnectedness of mind and body, to look more deeply into the inner truth which underlies everything.
The basics are to be kind and compassionate. By being kind and compassionate you are steering away from the path of selfishness. To be selfish is to be self-sufficient; totally independent of everything and everybody else. In the end it only gets lonely, for you can’t share the joy, the compassion and wisdom. And why are we selfish? Isn’t it out of ignorance of our true nature? If we were to find out that by helping others by being kind and compassionate, we help ourselves; wouldn’t it make sense to accept this simple but powerful truth?
Living that way doesn’t mean you can’t make any mistake. That is another pitfall. In the West we are brought up with fear of punishment. If you make a mistake, you will be punished. But does this punishment do any good to us? Or does it only prevent us from ever telling the truth? What if the fear of punishment itself is the greatest blockade to the truth? To me one of the great examples of this truth is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Only when there is no fear of punishment, can the truth come out.
If you want to get to know more about the teachings of Ajahn Brahm, you can watch a lot of videos online. I post this video which I watched today, which contains a lot of the things I wrote about. It’s not so much about being original, it’s about being honest. And I really get inspired by his talks, therefore I decided to write and share this.
More of Ajahn Brahm can be found on YouTube and his monastery has its own channel. You can visit it here: Buddhist Society WA
Some of the talks focus on the teachings of the Buddha, but all of them contain ideas and anecdotes which can be implemented in everyday life. They all come down to the same thing: Be kind and compassionate.